After suffering from a debilitating stroke last month, Patrice O’Neal has died. He was 41 years old.
The first time I saw O’Neal, I had that moment where I would feel myself leaning forward in my seat, fascinated at the brilliant mind at work. Definitely raw and uncompromising, but you underestimated him to think he was dirty for dirty’s sake. Particularly with his size and appearance, a lot of audiences would misjudge him, to their own peril if he discovered it while engaging with you on stage.
What always struck me was how Patrice O’Neal turned stand-up into a conversation. Talking to the audience, determining their thoughts and then pointing out the comic logic of their own making. The best example, I can think of is in O’Neal’s HBO One Night Stand. After some raw talk about women and sex, O’Neal challenged the women in the audience to tell him how they’d keep their man if they’d lost their pussy. After hearing a litany of other sexual acts from women in the audience, he points out that how is he such a bad guy when every women who answered just “classified yourselves as a series of holes.” The filthiest use of the Socratic Method I can think of.
Here’s another example, where he feigns ignorance for a second to show rather than tell his potentially controversial. There’s no worries about bringing the audience along with him here. They’re already there. He’s just pointing it out.